Graham's New Hard Lane

Four-goal Owen pours cold water on burn-out theory as his England partner fails to reign in the rain
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Tottenham Hotspur 2 Newcastle United 0

Iversen 40, 76

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 36,047

THERE ARE two dictators in London this weekend. The one not facing extradition to Spain was yesterday already making his mark back in North London. Even to the ultra-critical cognoscenti of White Hart Lane who have had their cultural sensibilities severely mauled of late "2-0 to the Tottenham" had rather a grand resonance to it.

Indeed, it was not a bad start at all for the dapper Scot who will always be associated with the wrong end of the Seven Sisters Road, but who may just have endeared himself a little to those still doubting his appointment as Tottenham enjoyed a thoroughly merited victory over Ruud Gullit's Newcastle side. They started out lacking in height and ended up deficient in spirit.

And though Graham has never been one for hyperbole, come success or adversity, the sometime dandy of British managers, sometime demanding despot of standards was heartened by this first home foray under his charge. "When you are a new manager, you've got to formulate a certain plan: who's leaving, who's coming in. And while you're doing that, you've still got to get victories under your belt," he maintained. "I'm delighted with the result and the attitude of the players."

One of three changes he had enforced since the 2-1 defeat by Leicester on Monday had been to deploy Chris Armstrong in a straight partnership with former Newcastle man Les Ferdinand, at the expense of Ruel Fox. Though it was back to the drawing board after only 18 minutes, when the England forward departed with an ankle injury, his replacement, the 21-year-old Steffen Iversen proved himself a more than able deputy. The Norwegian scored both goals and might have had a hat-trick with a little more composure, while Armstrong also spurned a brace of opportunities.

"I saw Steffen playing for Rosenborg against Milan and I thought then he was an outstanding prospect," Graham enthused of the Norwegian. "Unfortunately he's had the Tottenham injury jinx and is still not fully fit. But I'll get him fit and he'll realise his potential."

David Ginola, whether motivated by incoming manager or former team, also advertised his prowess to Graham with a display that included one searing drive which brought the best out of goalkeeper Shay Given, who performed superbly throughout

And his back four - which included John Scales, starting a game for the first time since 6 December - permitted Alan Shearer only two sights of goal. One first half chance he chested down from Batty's cross brought a loud cheer from the home fans when it ran wide, and a venomous second half drive was excellently saved by Espen Baardsen.

The only blemish for Graham was referee Graham Barber's dismissal of Colin Calderwood for two bookable offences late in the game. Neither appeared particularly grave challenges. In fact, none of the game's seven cautions seemed as wild as the prevailing weather and Graham reflected: "I thought the ref was awful. The assets of the British game are passion and commitment. No player here reacted violently, but referees rush in too quickly to give yellow cards and that puts them in the position when they've got to get the red one out.."

Despite an excellent run of results under Gullit, with the only blips being the away defeats at champions Arsenal and League leaders Aston Villa in the last six games, Newcastle still flutter and deceive. They have talented youngsters in Stephen Glass, Paul Dalglish and Andrew Griffin, but their inexperience betrayed them at times.

In particular, the previous manager's son, apart from a first-half opportunity which he lashed wide albeit from an acute angle, never got any change from Sol Campbell and was eventually replaced, along with Glass. Griffin remained on, but may have preferred to follow his colleagues in the circumstances. It was his misplaced pass that gave Iverson the chance to confirm Spurs superiority 14 minutes from time.

Six minutes before the break, the Spurs substitute had prodded the ball home after Justin Edinburgh and Armstrong had constructed an opening which caused chaos in the visitors' rearguard. "We missed Dabijas because he is so good in the air and very strong. That was the key factor. I knew it would be difficult without him because we have such a small team," said Gullit who reinforced his opinion that Newcastle need four new players. "To do what we have to do".

Before the game, his Tottenham counterpart had appeared on two giant screens, like a prophet addressing the masses. There was a respectful silence from the faithful who started off possibly containing as many sceptics as those expectant. But no doubt by the final whistle, more were willing to be converted.

The players are, by now, well aware of the message their new manager is spreading and his attitudes. Jokes have been banned from the training ground - "there's something wrong if you're laughing and joking when you're fighting relegation" - and there was also an implication in his words afterwards that Graham will not countenance malingerers. "I've laid down certain rules," he said pointedly. "And that medical room has become a bit quieter...". He would not elaborate on precisely what rules, but when someone posed the question "So, have you told them, to take up their beds and walk?" he retorted grimly: "That is not a bad idea!" Then he smiled. But none of his players should get the idea that he means anything but serious business.

Comments